Introduction and Setup Impressions

Over the last couple of years, the ultra-compact form factor (UCFF) has emerged as one of the bright spots in the troubled PC market. Intel's NUC and GIGABYTE's BRIX are the most popular lineups in this category. Intel's 14nm Broadwell family was introduced into the market with the fanless Core M-based systems. The excellent performance of units based on Core-M has evoked interest in the performance of the upcoming NUC and BRIX units based on Broadwell-U. Intel is taking its time bringing the NUCs to market after officially announcing them at CES 2015. However, GIGABYTE sent over their premium Broadwell BRIX s SKU, the GB-BXi7H-5500, earlier this week. In this piece, we present results from putting the unit through our mini-PC evaluation routine.

We covered the launch of the Broadwell BRIX units at CES. Similar to the Haswell-based lineup at the time of introduction, we have two chassis designs - one with support for a 2.5" drive slot as well as a mSATA port, and the other with a smaller height supporting only a mSATA port. The GB-BXi7H-5500 belongs to the former category and is part of the BRIX s family. The unit comes with a Core i7-5500U Broadwell-U processor and is the flagship SKU in the introductory lineup. Befitting its premium status, it is the only BRIX s model to come with NFC capabilities.

Similar to the BRIX units of the previous generation, the GB-BXi7H-5500 is also a barebones PC. The storage subsystem, DRAM and OS choices are all left to the end user. We opted for a powerful build, choosing the highest end Corsair Vengeance DDR3L memory SKU and a 120 GB Samsung SSD 840 EVO.

The GB-BXi7H-5500 will have a suggested retail price of $509, a very slight premium over the introductory price of the premium Haswell GB-BXi7-4500 model. Our high-end choices pushed the build cost upwards of $750. However, it is possible to bring down the cost with a judicious choice of DRAM and SSD. The specifications of our review configuration are summarized in the table below.

GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-5500U
(2C/4T x 2.40 GHz, 14nm, 4MB L2, 15W TDP)
Memory 2x 8GB DDR3L-1866
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 5500
Disk Drive(s) Samsung SSD 840 EVO 120GB 2.5" SSD
Networking 1x Realtek RTL8111 GbE, 1x1 Intel AC3160 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Audio Capable of 5.1/7.1 digital output with HD audio bitstreaming (HDMI)
Operating System Retail unit is barebones, but we installed Windows 8.1 Pro x64
Pricing (As configured) $786
Full Specifications GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 Specifications

The GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 kit doesn't come with any pre-installed OS, but does come with a DVD containing the drivers. The read-only USB keys that came with some of the BRIX models last year seem to be missing this time around. In any case, we ended up installing the latest drivers downloaded off GIGABYTE's product support page. In addition to the main unit, the other components of the package include a 65 W (19V @ 3.42A) adapter, a US power cord, a VESA mount (along with the necessary screws), a driver DVD, screws for the installation of a 2.5" drive and a NFC tag. The gallery below takes us around the packaging and the hardware.

We had installed DDR3L sticks supporting overclocking up to 2133 MHz. Naturally curious about what rate the memory was running at actually, and in order to take a look at the various configuration options, we navigated into the BIOS. The gallery below shows some screenshots indicating the available BIOS options.

The system was able to configure itself without any intervention to run the memory at 1866 MHz. Considering that Intel only officially supports up to DDR3L-1600, this is pretty good. We modified a couple of other options - one related to the OS that we planned to install - Windows 8.x instead of the default Windows 7, and another related to the memory allocated to the iGPU. By default, the iGPU gets only 128 MB. Since the unit was built with 16 GB of memory, we decided to allocate the maximum possible memory to the iGPU in the BIOS - 2 GB. Within Windows, though, hardware monitoring tools reported only 1 GB of VRAM.

In the table below, we have an overview of the various systems that we are comparing the GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 against. Note that they may not belong to the same market segment. The relevant configuration details of the machines are provided so that readers have an understanding of why some benchmark numbers are skewed for or against the GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500 when we come to those sections. The most important of these PCs is the GIGABYTE GB-BXi7-4500 - they are at similar price points, and the comparison will give us an idea of what Broadwell brings to the table when compared to Haswell.

Comparative PC Configurations
Aspect GIGABYTE GB-BXi7H-5500
CPU Intel Core i7-5500U Intel Core i7-5500U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 5500 (Broadwell-U GT2) Intel HD Graphics 5500 (Broadwell-U GT2)
RAM Corsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B2133C11
10-10-10-29 @ 1866 MHz
2x8 GB
Corsair Vengeance CMSX16GX3M2B2133C11
10-10-10-29 @ 1866 MHz
2x8 GB
Storage Samsung SSD 840 EVO
(120 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 19nm; TLC)
Samsung SSD 840 EVO
(120 GB; 2.5in SATA 6Gb/s; 19nm; TLC)
Wi-Fi Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160
(1x1 802.11ac - 433 Mbps)
Price (in USD, when built) $786 $786
Performance Metrics - I
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  • cobalt42 - Friday, January 30, 2015 - link

    I think you're actually kind of agreeing -- as implied by the OP, 1366x768 is closer to 1280x720 than it is to 1280x1024. (768p is 80% of 12x10, 720p is 70% of 12x10). Either way, 1280x1048 is rather too many pixels.
  • milkod2001 - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    This seems more reasonable build compared to ASrock a few days back you posted review about. But Im still not sold on temperatures it reaches. 90c is way too much. Looks like even Broodwell could not help. Problem must be the case, it's just way too small.

    My suggestion to vendors would be to completely ignore Intel's NUC standard build entirely and put everything into bigger aluminium case Apple mini like.
  • milkod2001 - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    in other words, clone Apple mini, make RAM + SSD upgradable and slap windows OS on that. Then we talk.
  • nwrigley - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    I haven't seen anything that comes close to the Mac Mini on an engineering level. It's a real shame too, the Mac Mini has been out for 10 years and nothing has bested that design.

    I hope we start to see some more innovation. If you go a step above the Mac Mini in size/weight/performance you've probably doubled your size and weight (at least). I wish they would make parts for systems larger than a laptop, but smaller than a tower. I would gladly trade off some of the size and weight of the Mini for more performance.
  • Kalessian - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    This review hit my browser like a sack of brix. Thx.
  • ericgl21 - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    This i7-5500U is not impressive at all.
    Even now with 14nm, a 15W CPU (with iGPU) from Intel still doesn't cut it.
    Hopefully, Intel will release a proper quad-core CPU that would take on the i7-4770R in all respects, including a lower TDP.
  • BlueBlazer - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Getting close and often surpassing AMD mobile APU offerings that has higher TDPs. Source of comparisons and Although differrent resolutions, 1280x1024 has more pixels than 1366x768. Furthermore not forgetting that this Core i7 5500u is just a 15W part!
  • Hulk - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Not that I don't appreciate this fantastic review but are we going to see a Broadwell review?

    Broadwell, Haswell, Ivy, and Sandy with clocks normalized so we can see IPC improvements Work normalized so we can see a few generations of power efficiency improvements?
    And finally head-to-head for each iGPU (with games and compute benches)?
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Looks good. cant wait to pick up the hd 6000 varient. I may have missed it, but does the broadwell NUC allow for the TDP to be raised like the haswell ones did? that, combined with 2133 memory let hd 5000 stretch its legs and perform quite well. hd6000 would be even better.
  • kgh00007 - Thursday, January 29, 2015 - link

    Yeah I hope so! I have raised the TDP on my D54250WYK to 25W and also have 2133 RAM, makes a big difference in performance over 15W TDP and 1600 RAM in games!!

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